Mistakes Christians make when dialoguing with atheists
by Matt Slick
Most Christians mean well when they defend their faith. But too often, many make fundamental errors when dialoguing with atheists. We need to make as few errors as possible – not simply to win an argument but to help the atheist come to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus.
However, there come times when it is appropriate to label atheists in a manner that is consistent with their behavior. Though our goal is to win them to Christ, unfortunately, too many of them care nothing for serious dialogue and seek only to malign Christianity and our Lord Jesus. If, after you have tried to communicate to them the truth of Christ’s work and they continue to speak evil of the Lord and Christianity and they continue to misrepresent the faith, then it can be appropriate to be tougher. First of all, Jesus was harsh and said people were lacking in understanding (Matt. 15:16), serpents, and vipers (Matt. 23:33), perverted (Matt. 17:17), etc. Paul said of those who denied God that they were of depraved mind, evil, full of envy, causing strife, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, etc., (Rom. 1:28-32). So, when it’s time and when they continue to refuse to be polite and respectful and you realize they are only seeking to harm the faith of Christians, then it is time to speak the truth to them. But, before you get to that point, we have some recommendations on how to treat them.
1. Labeling Atheists
Some Christians have labeled atheists as stupid or morally void. Though there may be some atheists who fit these categories (as would many in the general population), atheists are not categorically stupid–degenerates with no morals. Many of them are fine citizens, honest, caring, loving, and patient. For a Christian to start off with such a blanket statement can backfire. First, ask questions. Find out what their presuppositions are.
2. Ignoring Atheists’ Questions
If you were standing on a railroad track and a train was heading your way, closing your eyes and ignoring the locomotive will not make it go away. If an atheist asks a question and you ignore it repeatedly, it would be fair for him to conclude you were incapable of answering the objection. Of course, this does not mean you always have to answer everything because dialogue flows both ways. But, it is important that you face issues. If you don’t have an answer, admit it. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you are wrong; it means you don’t have an answer. Go study, get an answer, and get back to him.
3. Stating that Atheism is a religion
Atheists will repeatedly tell you that they are not in a religion. Religion is usually defined to include belief in a deity of some sort. Atheism is non-belief in a deity. It isn’t necessarily a “belief that there is no God” (though it can be) but is “not believing either way.” To label an atheist as a religious person is to put up a roadblock to effective communication. It would be like someone saying to a Christian, “You believe in a mean, tyrannical being who likes to torture people.” The Christian would simply roll his eyes and think that the person doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So, how much effective conversation could there be in either instance? Not much.
4. Stating unsupportable facts
No one has all documentation for everything they say. It is not reasonable to require proof from an atheist on everything said. Nevertheless, if you are going to state a fact or two, it is good to have the documentation at the tip of your tongue–at least occasionally, or have access to it. It adds to your credibility. Of course, you don’t have to document everything, but if you have some illustrious facts to use, try and have it documented.
5. Never admitting when you are wrong
Pride is a harmful thing. It caused the fall. It ruins marriages. It leads to anger and self-righteousness. It has no place in the Christian’s life. Never admitting you are wrong is being prideful. If an atheist or anyone proves you wrong in something, be kind and courteous. Admit you made a mistake and go on. Everyone makes mistakes–even atheists. There is nothing wrong with admitting an error. That doesn’t mean you are wrong about Christianity any more than being wrong about the color of a boat means boats don’t exist. On the other hand, if you never admit when you are wrong, you will not be able to convince anyone of your position when in a discussion. You will simply lose the respect of the one with whom you are debating